"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience,
bearing with one another and, if one has a
complaint against another, forgiving each other
as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive."
The above verses make it clear that as God's chosen people we have been made holy and that we are beloved. It makes also it clear that He calls us to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience -- all of which are Characteristics of our Jesus. It makes it clear that we have been called to bear with each other and forgive each other because we, ourselves, have been the recipients of such extravagant grace.
If we're brutally honest with ourselves, we have to admit we sin in so many ways. We sin through our actions when we are unkind and unloving as well as our through our inaction when we fail to show kindness and love. We sin through our words when we gossip, say hateful things, tell lies and half truths, and when we spew venom in an outburst of rage. We sin by our silences--those silences we hold in an effort to manipulate and punish, refusing to express love, forgiveness, affirmation, gratitude, or even gentle confrontations that call loved ones out of darkness. We sin through the display of prideful attitudes that give proof to the fact that we view ourselves better than another or succumb to patterns of narcissistic wounding, failing to see our own value and worth as image bearers of the Creator. We sin through harsh judgments towards another (or ourselves) formed by the comparisons we make. We sin by withholding love, nursing grudges and seeking control to protect our hearts. We commit sin as we don't deal with idols of our hearts that get in the way of radical real relationships we were created to have with the Creator.
In the last post I shared Dan Allender's definition of loving our enemies as "a movement of grace to embrace those who've sinned against us and to offer restoration to those who've done us harm." Enemies can be any one, even loved ones, who have wounded our hearts. Enemies can be those we know well and those we barely know. They can be people we know now, or people from our past to which we are in bondage because of the unfinished work of forgiveness.
Many authors believe forgiveness is only about the heart of the forgiver, but I believe that it is about the one who is in need of forgiveness as well. Forgiving has a lot to do with loving and inviting another to move away from the darkness they are perpetuating by their actions.
True forgiveness can only flow from a heart deeply that is deeply connected to God. Forgiveness is in part hungering for restoration, but it doesn't mean restoration is automatic. It doesn't mean we continue to put ourselves in harms way or at the disposal of emotional abusers. It means as we relate to God, we refuse to be peace keepers and become peace makers. It means we long for restoration and become willing to live in that state whether restoration happens or not. This can be a painful state, but this grief is a different kind of pain than the pain of ongoing abuse or of heart hardened by the refusal to feel. It is the pain that comes naturally with loving from a compassionate, tender, and fully alive heart. It is a pain that allows us to continue living, experiencing joy and hope. When offenses wound hearts and tear down relationships, forgiveness is possible only by drawing near to God through prayer and allowing Him to love through us. We must understand the heart of God always longs for restoration of a godly relationship, and to be like Him means we long for restoration. But like God we also calmly and firmly state boundaries with clear goals and clear consequences. Confronting feels risky because we can't control another's response and possibly could live a life time longing for another to be restored to both God, and us. But, again, that longing softens a heart rather than shrouding it in un penetrable walls and harsh judgments.
In order to love like this we have to be willing to revoke our right to take revenge. Joseph is such a good example of a man who was intimately acquainted with pain and Biblical forgiveness. His brothers betrayed him, some wanting him dead and then agreeing to sale him into slavery. Many years later, after some ups and downs, his brothers come face to face with him in Egypt where he had been elevated to a high position. When their father died, they feared revenge was on the horizon, but Joseph tells them he knows what they did was for evil, but God meant it for good. He didn't minimize or excuse their behavior, nor did he shame them or lord it over them. The story shows him working through his emotions and his pride melting into humility. Face to face he acknowledged the ugly facts of their story were a part of the larger redemptive story their God was writing. Its an honest account of a man struggling to revoke His right to take revenge and allowing God to change their hearts as He had his. He showed himself to be like Jesus. He had every reason to not trust them and every reason as a governor to take their lives in response to the sin they perpetrated and the suffering He had endured as a result. But, like Jesus he acknowledge their sin and extended them grace and offered them physical life by providing food which ultimately was an offering of spiritual life by reminding them of their God and the redemption story He is penning.
When we look at forgiveness in this way we realize forgiveness flows from working through our pain with God. It flows from a heart that is transparent, not in denial of what has happened or the pain it's caused. It's not pretending something didn't take place and that we are okay. Forgiveness isn't about getting another person to see they owe us some kind of penance to repay a debt, it is about letting go of the debt. Forgiveness isn't about repression of, the denial of , or the dissociation of emotions. For both anger and pain flow from passionate hearts. That was true for Jesus and it is true for us. Forgiveness allows us to use that anger constructively rather that destructively. It allows us to rage against things like misunderstandings, misbehaviors, and deception, rather than at an image bearers. When we deny anger we experience in loving relationships, we run the risk of allowing sin to destroy love. We have to understand that godly people experience anger, but we use the anger to motivate us to move relationships towards reconciliation and mutual respect. Anything less may look peaceful, but it belies a heart full of turmoil and has the propensity to keep an erring brother or sister in bondage to sin. True forgiveness works through issues so that we don't live with a heart alienated driven by timidity, caution, and fear.
In his book, The Art of Forgiving, Lewis B. Smedes points out that we can't change or forget past wounds, but that forgiveness can heal those wounds. He also points out that forgiving changes bitter memories into grateful ones, cowardly memories into courageous ones, enslaved memories into free memories. Forgiveness restores dignity and self-respect that the enemy tries to destroy. Forgiveness melts pride into humility.
When we choose the path of forgiveness, we refuse to let our past and those who perpetrate sin control us. We refuse to use energy to deny, to cover up, to suppress emotions, or to protect our hearts which frees us to love and move past the past. When we refuse to nurse our wounds and lay them before God, we find there is a lot more good, a lot more hope, and a lot more joy to be had. When we refuse to hold on to anger and pain we find that a tender heart is more pliable and loving and allows us to live out of what we want to be, not what the accuser tries to define us as.
Forgiveness isn't easy, and many of us are called to forgive what most normal healthy people would deem unforgiveable. But godly forgiveness allows us let go and surrender our heart and the heart of an offender to Jesus, the one who bore the wrath of God for our sin so that we could be reconciled. In my next post I want to share some practical information on how prayer can draw us to the heart of our God and enable us to move past our emotional pain, even the unforgiveable ones. I hope you will take the time to read it as it will help you understand that we are never ever alone in this thing called forgiveness. For where there is a need for forgiveness, no matter how great the offense, our God, our great and mighty God, meets us there.